Improve your studying

8 ‘brain fuel’ foods and drinks to improve concentration and memory

Studying, as we all know, is a very cerebral activity. You need tons of concentration, and your brain needs to work really hard. Your brain is an organ just like your stomach or liver and, as such, it needs fuel too. We use food to fuel our bodies, but not all food was created equal – some are better for your brain than others. Giving your brain the right ‘fuel’ is really important when studying, and here we discuss a few foods (and drinks) that will improve your studying game tenfold!

1. Blueberries help improve concentration

We all know that we need to incorporate a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables into our diet, and blueberries are a great choice for one of your 5 daily portions of fruit and vegetables. But why are blueberries good for concentration (and your body and brain in general)? Well, they contain something called anthocyanin, which is a type of flavonoid. Flavonoids are molecules that give food its colour, and they contain antioxidant properties. But what are antioxidants, and why are they could for you? In a nutshell, they’re compounds that slow down the process of oxidation. Oxidation is a naturally occurring process that can damage our body’s cells.

So, consuming foods that have antioxidant properties that help prevent damage to our bodies at a cellular level.  In terms of our brains, oxidation has a negative effect on our cognitive function, so consuming antioxidants or things with antioxidant properties help improve cognitive functioning and therefore helps improve your concentration and memory! Blueberries are also thought to help improve cell signalling, which refers to ‘communication’ between cells. Good cell signalling between brain cells is essential for making and storing memories (both short term and long term), so it stands to reason that by eating blueberries, cell signalling will improve, and therefore your memory will improve, too!

2. Green tea helps you relax and focus

Drinking green tea has many physical benefits. It contains two compounds that are really useful for concentration and studying in general, namely caffeine and L-theanine. Let’s discuss caffeine first. As you know, caffeine is a physical nervous stimulant. Usually consuming caffeine isn’t all that great for you, but it occurs in such low doses in green tea (and most teas) that it’s perfectly safe. So, how does caffeine help boost your concentration? Caffeine works in two ways – firstly, it blocks the brain’s production of adenosine, which is a chemical your brain makes that helps promote sleep and suppresses arousal. In short, adenosine makes you sleepy, and by caffeine blocking its production, it prevents you from becoming sleepy! Secondly, caffeine increases the brain’s production of norepinephrine, which is a chemical that increases arousal and alertness. So, more norepinephrine means you feel more alert and awake, which means it’s easier to concentrate when studying.

Green tea also contains something called L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid (amino acids are compounds that make up the proteins in your body’s cells) which has several effects on the brain. Firstly, it increases GABA activity. GABA is a chemical the brain makes that reduces the activity of the neurons in your brain. GABA tends to make people feel more relaxed, so the more GABA floating around your brain, the less stressed you are, and being relaxed helps improve concentration. Secondly, L-theanine increases the brain’s production of dopamine, which is a chemical in your brain that is largely responsible for feelings of drive and motivation. So, the more dopamine in your system, the more motivated and driven you’ll feel, and both of those are essential for studying! Lastly, L-theanine also increases your brain’s alpha waves. Your brain produces different kinds of brain waves during different stages of alertness. Alpha waves are thought to aid mental co-ordination, calmness, alertness and learning, all of which are essential for studying. So, all in all, green tea is really good for studying!

3. Omega-3 (fatty fish) improves neuronal/cell structure

Omega-3 fatty acids are compounds found in different foods, primarily fatty fish like salmon. So why are fatty acids good for you and your brain? Well, your brain’s neurons (cells) are mostly made of fat – 60% of your brain is fat, to be more exact, and 50% of that fat is the same kind as omega-3 fatty acids. So, by consuming these acids, you are helping your brain maintain its levels of fat, and therefore maintaining optimal cognitive functioning. Some kinds of acids help to build the membranes around your brain’s cells – this improves neuronal/cell structure, and the better the structure of your brain cells, the better your brain functions!

These fatty acids also increase blood flow in the brain, meaning that your brain cells get more oxygen (you blood carries oxygen around your body) and therefore your brain functions better, meaning you can concentrate and study better! One last benefit of fatty acids is that they help increase the amount of grey matter in your brain. Grey matter is nerve tissue and the other half of what makes up your brain cells in addition to fat. So, in sum, it’s a really good idea to treat yourself to that sushi or seafood dish you’ve been craving!

4. Avocado can help improve memory and concentration

Avocado is a buttery green fruit that is really rich in unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fat is the ‘good’ kind of fat, which is really good for your brain. Like fatty fish, this fat takes the form of fatty acids which improves your brain signalling. While fatty fish contains omega-3 acids, avocado contains oleic acid, which is an omega-9 acid, which has been linked to improved cognition. Avocado also contains Vitamin K, which is a vitamin that plays an essential role in helping to improve memory and concentration. Vitamin K is particularly good at improving episodic memory, which refers to the recollection of experiences that occurred at a specific time and place, which is very useful if you’re one of those people who can ‘see’ your notes in your mind when you’re recalling information during a test or exam.

5. Water is essential for optimal cognitive functioning

As you may know, our bodies consist of 60 to 70% water. So, it makes sense that it’s really important to drink a lot of water (some recommend drinking between 6 and 8 glasses of water per day). When you don’t drink enough water, you become really dehydrated, which occurs when there isn’t enough water in your cells themselves, so your organs stop functioning optimally. This is because the water in your cells is super important for containing nutrients, as well as for nutrients to pass between cells and body parts. Without being able to sustain the nutrients in your body’s cells, your organs won’t work properly, especially your brain!

So, it’s super important to drink water anyway, but especially during studying because proper hydration is essential for optimal cognitive functioning. Dehydration has been found to impair both short-term memory function and recall of long-term memory, which means 2) your brain won’t be able to convert the information you’re processing while into a long-term memory and b) if you can make those memories, you won’t be able to retrieve them while writing your test or exam. So, stay hydrated! If you’re unsure how much water you need to be consuming each day – and remember, everyone’s body is different – take this quiz!

6. Dark chocolate can help improve your concentration

Dark chocolate is great for studying for several reasons (note: we really do mean dark chocolate, not white or milk chocolate). Firstly, like green tea, it contains low doses of caffeine which, as we discussed, is helpful for improving your concentration. Secondly, it’s a great source of magnesium, which has been said to boost brain power and improve memory. Magnesium is vital for the proper functioning of your brain, and safely increasing your magnesium intake can help intercellular neuronal communication (the interaction between your brain cells) like fatty acids, which, in turn, can help improve your ability to learn, and your ability to recall what you have learned. Lastly, it is well known that eating chocolate contributes to increased production of endorphins and serotonin in the brain which, as we mentioned, are also useful for helping the brain function at an optimal level.

7. Nuts could help improve your cognitive functioning

Like blueberries, nuts are rich in antioxidants, namely Vitamin E. This vitamin is said by some to improve cognitive functioning and even to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia! It’s best to get your vitamins from the food you eat, rather than a supplement, as with supplements you run the risk of consuming too much whereas vitamins occur in safe and healthy concentrations in foods, so stick with nuts instead of pills! Nuts also contain amino acids which, as we’ve seen, are great for boosting concentration and improving memory.

8. Leafy greens help boost brain function

Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, collard greens and spinach are not only important for your overall health, but also for keeping your brain functioning optimally. They work to boost brain function by containing plenty of antioxidants (which we’ve discussed at some length already), namely carotenoids. ‘Ok great, but what are carotenoids, and why should I care about them?’, you might ask. Carotenoids are like the flavonoids found in blueberries, meaning they’re compounds that give food its colour. But more importantly, like flavonoids, they act to reduce the speed at which brain matter deteriorates and by improving cell signalling, they also improve your concentration and memory!

 

As you can see, there are many healthy foods you can consume to improve your studying. By making a couple of simple changes in your diet, you could improve your health and concentration which will help you study well and do great in your studies and exams.